Cindy Jutras

SAP Business One: The Next 20 Years

Becoming an ERP Platform

SAP Business One turned 20 last year. If it were a human, that would mean it was poised to enter the prime of its life. If it were a dog, it would be getting very long in the tooth, unable perhaps to learn new tricks. In software years, 20 is often thought of as mature, but equally as often viewed as ancient. Indeed some 20 year old enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions are truly approaching “end of life.” Often referred to as “legacy” solutions, these are the ones that are still based on outdated technology, have changed very little over the last decade or more, and are still based on their original, outdated technology and architectures. Fortunately for the more than 55,000 customers running their businesses with SAP Business One, this ERP solution for small to mid-size businesses (SMBs) has come a very long way since it was first introduced.

But SAP believes it still has a long life ahead and is aggressively planning for the next 20 years. But, just as today’s solution bears very little resemblance to the original single-user system (running on a Mac), the SAP Business One of the future will look, feel and be something different than it is today. SAP Business One is becoming more than just ERP. It is becoming a business process platform. That means it will be open, extensible, and poised to meet very specific needs across many different verticals… and fully capable of being delivered through the cloud as a service.

Why a Platform?

Periodically pundits in the software industry try hard to kill off ERP, largely based on old perceptions. Let’s face it: Nobody recalls the early days of ERP as “the good old days.” Early ERP solutions were rigid and inflexible, hard to install and implement and even harder to use. Functionality was limited (and limiting) and implementations were not for the faint of heart. Horror stories of failed implementations costing millions of dollars were fairly common. For many, those perceptions live on.

Some solution providers jump on this bandwagon and try to reposition their solutions as something else without really changing what they actually do. Is SAP’s move a similar tactic? We think not. We believe it is an indication that the leadership of the SAP SMB team has a firm grasp of the needs of these smaller enterprises and is committed to satisfying those needs.

Over the years, SMBs in general have been turned off by ERP, thinking of it as a huge, disruptive and expensive undertaking. SAP in particular has suffered from these perceptions as a result of its penetration into large, multi-national enterprises. Overlooking the fact that SAP sells a completely different solution to SMBs, many mistakenly believe all ERP implementations to be overwhelmingly complex and overkill for their smaller operations. They fall into the trap of thinking they can get by without it. Or they think they need “something else.” In reality, based on the way Mint Jutras defines ERP, they not only need it, they need ERP and more. We believe this is the rationale behind SAP’s platform approach.

Some of the problems with the early versions of ERP resulted from software vendors trying to be all things to all businesses. With few exceptions, most early solution providers cast a wide net. Unwilling to turn any potential business away without a try, they came to market with very broad solutions. By trying to please everyone, they never had a complete solution for anyone. The 80-20 rule prevailed. Nobody expected a solution to satisfy all their needs (an 80% fit was often the goal), resulting in invasive (and sometimes expensive) customizations that built barriers to further innovation.

SAP seems to agree with our conclusion: All businesses need some flavor of ERP. But a “one size fits all” solution is not the most effective approach, because of the fact they also need “more”. But the “more” needed by a brewery is very different from the “more” needed by the company providing field services to the oil and gas industry, or the fitness club selling gym memberships. Even in food and beverage, the “more” needed by growers is very different than the “more” needed in the poultry industry.

And while brewers, growers, field service providers, fitness clubs and poultry providers all have similar needs in finance, accounting, booking and revenue and inventory management, they are not willing to spend a lot on these back office functions, preferring instead to invest in solutions that help them directly grow their businesses. These companies want to invest in a gym club solution, or a beer brewing solution, or a field service solution, not a generic ERP.

But wouldn’t it be nice if you could satisfy all your needs, including those basic functions, with the specialized solutions that help you directly drive your business? You can if those specialized solutions are built on top of a strong foundation – an ERP platform. That is the plan for SAP Business One.

SAP will continue to invest (and invest heavily) in the ongoing development of the generic core ERP, including new features and functions, as well as the user experience. It will modernize the user interface, including access from mobile devices, and embed analytical capabilities. But perhaps equally, if not more importantly, it will invest in the underlying architecture and technologies that enable partners to more easily enhance and extend the solution for the specific needs of different vertical, and in some cases even more specialized micro vertical industries.

Click here to read the full report on SAP’s plans and Mint Jutras’ analysis please click on the link below (no registration required).

 

 

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Unit4: Delivering Not Only What People Need, But Also What They Want

The ‘People Platform’ is The Secret Sauce

Is there a difference between what people in people-centric businesses need and what they want? You betcha! They need applications like finance, human resource information systems (HRIS), procurement and all the different pieces needed to maintain the system of record of their businesses. In other words, virtually everyone needs basic Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). But ERP isn’t new and exciting. What they really want are the cool features, functions and applications that help them clearly differentiate themselves and make them stand out from the pack. They need those routine back office processes to run smoothly, but they also need the agility to respond to change and embrace new ideas and new technologies.

A recent Mint Jutras report asked the question: Is “Agile ERP” an Oxymoron? For decades using “agile” to describe ERP was indeed the conjunction of incongruous and even contradictory terms – the very definition of an oxymoron. Unit4, a software solution provider that specializes in people-centric businesses, has always prided itself in its agility. For many years the goal of Business World (its flagship ERP solution) was to effectively and efficiently meet the needs of businesses living in change (BLINC). Yet over those years Unit4’s product portfolio has also been extended to include additional solutions that can address more specific vertical needs and provide a level of differentiation. These additions came, not only through both its own development efforts, but also through acquisition.

Most notably Unit4 has acquired a Student Information System (SIS) for higher education, a Professional Services Automation (PSA) solution for professional services organizations and Corporate Performance Management (CPM) for all types of people businesses. While these might fall into the category of “the cool stuff,” Unit4 isn’t stopping there. At the same time, it has been developing a range of microservices that will help all these and its Business World ERP take advantage of new and disruptive technologies in order to unleash their full potential. At the core of these innovative services is the Unit4 People Platform.

Business Applications of the Future

Business applications of the future are more flexible, configurable and (perhaps most importantly) more extensible. In Is “Agile ERP” an Oxymoron? we talked about the importance of components-based architectures and the ability to extend the foundational solution that runs your business. We also talked about the importance of the underlying development platform. The speed of innovation and the ease of consuming it are largely dependent on the platform on which your ERP solution is built. A development platform can provide “application services” for things like file handling, security, searches and access from mobile devices. The value of the development platform is derived largely from developing a service once and re-using it throughout a product or suite of modules.

But with a diverse portfolio of products, Unit4 also deals with different development platforms. For example, Unit4 Business World is based on an architecture previously branded as Vita. But its newly acquired PSA solution is based on Microsoft Dynamics 365. How can Unit4 develop a service once and leverage it throughout its growing portfolio of products? The answer lies in its People Platform. While its different products may be based on different development platforms, the People Platform is a different kind of platform.

The Unit4 People Platform

Technically not a development platform, think of the Unit4 People Platform more as a collection of innovative services, beyond the typical file handling and security.

Figure 1: Unit4’s Platform for Innovation

Source: Unit4

These innovative services are meant to open doors to the growing number of digital technologies just coming of age. These are the type of services the People Platform is putting within the reach of Unit4 customers. Most notable are alerts and a virtual assistant (Wanda) that takes advantage of both natural language processing (think Siri or Alexa for enterprise applications) and machine learning (the more you use it, the smarter it gets). And also the business intelligence delivered with it CPM solution, including predictive analytics.

Unit4 is being proactive in making use of these new and potentially disruptive technologies. The 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study found a large percentage of our survey population in services types of businesses lacked familiarity with these technologies, and/or saw little value to their businesses (Table 1).

Table 1: How familiar are you with these technologies as they relate (or not) to your business?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

We point this out, not to imply there is little value – quite the contrary. We recognize enormous value and applaud Unit4 for playing a role in educating its customers and getting out ahead of the demand. Let’s take a look at an example.

Who (or What) is Wanda?

Unit4’s Wanda is the perfect example of the kind of value delivered using the People Platform. It is currently available for Unit4 Business World customers, but Unit4 is working hard on bringing it to its PSA and SIS constituents as well.

Wanda is a new way of interacting with Unit4’s enterprise applications. She makes use of natural language processing (yes, you can talk to her) and machine learning to help people automate, prioritize and complete repetitive tasks in a fraction of the time it has always taken. As a virtual assistant, Wanda is embedded in the user interface and accessed through Skype, Slack or Facebook messenger. This allows users to communicate and interact with the solution through a “chat,” much like they would with a colleague. And Wanda is smart enough to understand when multiple topics might be mixed in a single conversation, so no need to artificially compartmentalize. All of this is possible without formally logging into the application.

And in fact if you are already comfortable communicating with Alexa in your home setting, you have a head start in using Wanda. That is because Alexa has already met Wanda and in the not too distant future you can use her to ask Wanda questions. Click here to see and hear a live demonstration.

This is made possible through the use of Microsoft’s Language Understanding Intelligent Service (LUIS). This is the underlying technology that gives Wanda the ability to understand what a person wants through the spoken word, not codes or clicks.

Why Are These Innovative Services important?

While delivering what people want, instead of or in addition to what they need, sounds very appealing, there is more than just a wish list involved here. Agility and the ability to extend current solutions to do more, including providing differentiation, is becoming a “must have” today. Why? We live in disruptive times. The 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study found 88% of companies believe they face some level of risk in their businesses and/or industries being disrupted by new innovative products, new ways of selling or pricing existing products or services, entirely new business models, or some combination of all of the above. And then of course there are still the more traditional disruptive factors like expansion and growth, organizational restructuring and regulatory changes, just to name a few.

All this disruption can have a cascading impact on business application requirements, making agility – the ability to easily innovate, evolve and change – even more important than current functionality.

While only 10% of our 2016 survey participants felt that risk was high and/or imminent, most do understand the risk is real. While about one in three (34%) feel the risk is low, we have to ask: How do you think the taxi industry might have answered this question on the eve of the launch of Uber? Do you think the hotel industry anticipated Airbnb? Did Block Buster foresee the devastating impact Netflix would have on its business? What kind of disruption is lurking out there for you?

The Internet and the digital economy made all of these disruptions possible and none were decades in the making. Compared to slow, evolutionary changes of the past, they literally happened almost overnight. The Internet has leveled the playing field, allowing any company, even small ones, to establish a global presence. This creates new competition, along with new opportunity. While new windows of opportunity open every day, they can also close as fast as they open.

Change is inevitable, bringing about new requirements. As your business changes, along with the world around you, the speed with which new features and functions can be developed, delivered and consumed will clearly impact your agility.

Key Takeaways and Recommendations

Agile ERP is no longer the oxymoron it once was, and yet many of the solutions installed today remain rigid and require extensive modifications to meet the changing needs of enterprises today. And the pace of change does not appear to slowing down. Even traditional types of business change resulting from growth, expansion, organizational restructuring, and/or regulatory changes are accelerating along with the pace of business itself. Add to that the threat of disruption made possible by the digital economy. A stagnant solution may just put you ahead in the race to the bottom.

Unit4’s People Platform and the company’s drive to deliver innovative services that can complement and extend your solution to put you back in the race to the top of your game. Unit4 is in business for people. Whether you operate in a professional services organization, higher education or in one of a growing number of people-centric businesses, Unit4’s People Platform, together with one (or more) of its purpose-built applications, could very well be your secret sauce in getting you what you want while satisfying what you need.

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NetSuite to Leverage Oracle’s Global Resources and Reach

Massive Global Expansion Initiatives Planned

Back in December 2016 Mint Jutras posed the question: Does Oracle’s Acquisition Mean More, More, More for NetSuite? And if it represents more, is it more of the same or something new? The answer back then was, “Yes.” While this is one of a long list of acquisitions by Oracle (i.e. more of the same), there were indeed some new twists. The first new twist was the declaration that NetSuite would continue to enjoy an unprecedented level of independence as a separate global business unit (GBU). Secondly, the NetSuite products will “live forever.” Oracle would not only continue to invest in these products, but invest heavily. And finally, NetSuite would gain entrance to global markets instantly.

“Globalization” was indeed one of three major announcements at the 7th annual SuiteWorld in Las Vegas. Suiteworld 2017 was NetSuite’s biggest event ever, providing the perfect stage from which to announce its global strategy, along with two other initiatives: Suite People and SuiteSuccess. More on those other two announcements in separate reports. Here we focus on the massive global expansion initiatives planned for the Oracle NetSuite Global Business Unit.

Where Does NetSuite Fit?

Because NetSuite’s products are now part of Oracle’s (extensive) product portfolio, it is important to first understand where they fit, not only within the Oracle portfolio, but also the market as a whole. The NetSuite GBU will be positioned for businesses with 1,000 employees or less, although the product will be designed and available for anyone from small business to enterprise. Oracle’s eBusiness Suite will be positioned for those with more than 1,000 employees. While these are not the only two ERP products in the Oracle portfolio, they are clearly the two most strategic. Other ERP solutions (acquired from Peoplesoft and JD Edwards) live on but do little to help Oracle achieve its publicly stated goal to be the first company to reach $10 billion in cloud revenue.

While Oracle has drawn a line in the sand in terms of number of employees, that line is indeed drawn in the sand and not in concrete. It will be allowed to shift based on specific customer/prospect requirements or preferences.

It is in that context that we observe NetSuite OneWorld is already in use in more than 100 countries around the world. That might sound like NetSuite already had quite a global reach. However, much of this global reach was attained through selling to multi-national companies headquartered in the United States. Yes, it had some (physical) presence outside the United States, but not enough to fuel the kind of explosive growth Oracle feels is possible.

It also might sound like targeting small to mid-size enterprises (SMEs) is a big change for NetSuite GBU. Indeed, some of its competitors used these multi-national deals as proof that NetSuite was abandoning the small to midmarket. The reality was (and is) a bit different. While a good chunk of NetSuite’s revenue came from a few large enterprises, the bulk of its customers have always been firmly planted in the midmarket.

Even the midmarket is driving software companies to go global these days. It used to be only large companies that were multi-location, multi-national enterprises. But the Internet has leveled the playing field, allowing even small companies to be able to build a global brand. Operating across a distributed environment has become a way of life for a large percentage of businesses today, even smaller ones.

Figure 1: Environments Are More Distributed and Remote

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

In fact 81% of all survey participants in the 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study had more than one operating location served by ERP (Figure 1). This percentage has been growing steadily over the past few years and even those with annual revenues below $25 million average 3.53 operating locations. In addition, almost half (47%) are already multi-national, dealing with the complexities of multiple legal entities.

The digital economy has created unprecedented opportunities. To capitalize on this opportunity, small to mid-size companies will need to take some chances and be willing to fail, but fail (or succeed) rapidly in order to move on to the next opportunity. They will need to leverage technology in order to simplify, manage, control and reduce risk, but they will also need to move quickly. They will not have the deep pockets or the time needed to build out infrastructure. They can’t afford to take years to implement solutions to run the business.

Cloud ERP to the rescue. No capital expenditure required; no need to build out a data center, or even put hardware or a huge information technology (IT) staff in country. And the market seems to be increasingly receptive to cloud and SaaS.

Mint Jutras has been following perceptions and preferences for SaaS versus on-premise software for years now. Between 2011 and 2013, the demand for traditional on-premise deployments went over a cliff. Since then, prior concerns over reliability and security have been addressed and the preference for SaaS (versus hosting) has continued to climb.

Figure 2 shows the progression of preference over the past several years. The question posed to survey respondents was this: If you were to select a solution today, which deployment options would you consider? Respondents are allowed to select all that apply. Today, SaaS is the top choice.

Figure 2: Which Deployment Options Would You Consider?

Source: Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Studies

* Option added in 2015

And this year we added a follow-on question, displaying back the options that would be considered and asking respondents to select a single first choice. Seventy percent (70%) of those that would consider it also selected SaaS as their first choice.

But with this opportunity also comes challenges in satisfying the specific needs of new geographies, and also in maintaining governance and control. In the past all these different operating locations may have been left to their own devices to select and implement a local operational solution. Those days are long gone. Today, most all companies define and adhere to corporate standards for enterprise solutions (Figure 3).

Figure 3: What kind of standards do you have?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

While Oracle hopes to be the standard at corporate headquarters, NetSuite is trying very hard to establish its OneWorld product as that corporate standard in the operating divisions. But this places an added burden on the local solution to play nicely in a multi-national corporate setting. Mint Jutras has long been a fan of cloud solutions as an enabler of growth, particularly when it comes to expansion beyond national boundaries. And yet cloud alone isn’t enough. Not only might you have multi-language requirements, but also the solution must be localized to meet the tax and regulatory requirements of the new location. And finally, you need special functionality to handle multi- company financial and operational needs once you establish multiple legal entities.

NetSuite is currently localized for eight different countries and has long been planning to expand to more. Those plans have now been accelerated. With the new infusion of capital, it has an additional 22 on the drawing board.

NetSuite has also been working on that added functionality. New features announced at SuiteWorld 2017 include new advanced intercompany journal entries, complete with a new auto-balance button and automated currency conversion. In keeping with the theme of SuiteWorld – Next Starts Now – NetSuite also laid out what’s next for global functionality:

  • Global customers, employees and projects (think global master data management)
  • Global business process configuration (think interoperability between operating sites)
  • Automated inter-company accounting (not a simple task and while the devil is in the details, Oracle has a lot of experience to bring to bear)
  • Suite Tax (think of all the different tax methodologies around the world)
  • Cash management
  • Enhanced Suite GL and Suite Segments
  • Year end closing journal

These plans represent a lot of work ahead, but NetSuite is planning on adding a lot of new employees to pitch in and help. In fact in fiscal year 2018 (which is starting soon), NetSuite plans to hire more people than were working at NetSuite in 2012. However, don’t expect the pace of innovation to ramp up instantaneously. NetSuite first has to find the talent, train the new hires on its technology and its solution, and only then will they be productive. Once that happens, we expect the pace of development to increase sharply.

But that pace will be needed in order to deliver on the additional plans NetSuite has laid out. Note these come directly from Oracle + NetSuite’s press releases:

Data Centers

NetSuite plans to more than double its data center footprint from five data centers globally to 11. NetSuite currently operates five data centers, three in North America, one in Amsterdam, Netherlands and one in Dublin, Ireland. NetSuite expects to add a fourth North American data center in Chicago. As part of the global expansion plans, NetSuite will leverage existing Oracle data centers in Europe and Asia. In Europe, NetSuite is scheduled to open a data center in Frankfurt, Germany. In Asia Pacific, NetSuite plans to initially launch facilities in Australia and Singapore, followed by Japan and China.

Field offices

NetSuite expects to double its global presence, expanding from offices in 10 countries to 23 spread across the globe. NetSuite is establishing a new presence in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, France, Germany, Sweden, Dubai, China, India, Malaysia and New Zealand. In addition, NetSuite is expanding headcount in existing field offices by over 50%.

Development centers

The NetSuite global business unit is leveraging existing Oracle development centers across India, China and Japan. The development centers will be able to accelerate the development of international, regional and local features and functionality within NetSuite OneWorld.

Summary and Conclusions

We go back to the initial question posed: Does the Oracle acquisition of NetSuite represent more, more, more for NetSuite? The answer is clearly yes. These announcements represent a massive expansion plan to accelerate its international growth. The expansion initiatives will enable Oracle NetSuite Global Business Unit to launch more data centers, more field offices and more development centers globally, which will help to bring the suite to more organizations around the world.

This expansion will no longer be led by the US-based NetSuite customers, but instead by a carefully planned strategy. And as a result, we will believe NetSuite customers will benefit from Oracle’s vast global scale and resources. While NetSuite has poured as many resources as it could afford into developing the products, Oracle has deeper pockets and can also bring its own resources to bear in terms of products, people and global reach. So NetSuite will enjoy “more of the same” …but “more” is a relative term. In this case, we believe “more” means “lots more.”

As one customer puts it: “Oracle’s increased investment in all areas of the NetSuite product and operations offers more opportunities to customers, particularly growing international businesses like PageGroup,” said Mark Hearn, Finance Director of recruitment company PageGroup. “As we continue our global roll-out of NetSuite OneWorld, I am reassured by the even greater capabilities and resources behind the product. A commitment to strong and sustained investment in OneWorld functionality will enable international companies like us to continue to grow with NetSuite in the future.”

While many in the industry have pointed to Oracle’s prior acquisitions as proof positive that NetSuite will fade into the sunset, Mint Jutras believes this will be very different. Thus far, it has had little impact on NetSuite employees, except to add strength to future plans. As Oracle CEO Mark Hurd said to SuiteWorld 2017 attendees, “We didn’t spend $9.3 billion to kill it.” Instead Oracle is looking for NetSuite to pay for itself quickly with this massive global expansion.

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Meet Unit4’s Wanda

Your New Co-Pilot In “Self-Driving” ERP

Have you ever secretly wished for a personal assistant who could sense and respond to your every demand, even before you have figured out what you need? If you are a Baby Boomer who launched your career in a business setting back in the 1970’s, you probably had access to the services of a secretary or an administrative assistant. After all, you couldn’t survive without one to help navigate the administrative nightmare of a generation that was completely dependent on paper and manual processes. Today technology has made us far more self-sufficient, but we’re also expected to get more done – a lot more. While nobody misses those clumsy olden days, a lot of us from all generations sure could use some help today.

If you are a Unit4 customer, help is on the way. Her name is Wanda. On May 2, 2017 Unit4 released its new enterprise digital assistant, Wanda, a completely new out-of-the-box ERP user experience. According to Unit4, Wanda is a core component of its Spring 2017 launch, and an important milestone on Unit4’s journey to deliver self-driving enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. As a solution provider to people-oriented businesses and non-profit organizations, Unit4 has made ERP “self-driving” by leveraging technology to optimize user interaction, allowing employees to focus on activities where people make the difference.

Who (or What) is Wanda?

Wanda is a new way of interacting with Unit4’s ERP. She makes use of natural language processing (think Siri or Alexa for ERP) and machine learning to help people automate, prioritize and complete repetitive tasks in a fraction of the time it has always taken. She makes an effective co-pilot for your self-driving ERP. As a digital assistant, Wanda is embedded in the user interface and accessed through Skype, Slack or Facebook messenger. This allows users to communicate and interact with the solution through a “chat,” much like they would with a colleague. And Wanda is smart enough to understand when multiple topics might be mixed in a single conversation, so no need to artificially compartmentalize… all without formally logging into ERP.

This is made possible through the use of Microsoft’s Language Understanding Intelligent Service (LUIS). This is the underlying technology that gives Wanda the ability to understand what a person wants through the spoken word, not codes or clicks. Five new assistants are currently available to assist customers’ employees with some of the most common (and repetitive) tasks:

  • HR Assistant helps employees with human resource (HR) related tasks like requesting paid time off and enquiring about vacation balances and pay slips.
  • Purchasing Assistant assists in finding products and suppliers, generating requisitions and managing approvals.
  • Time Assistant automatically generates timesheets based on multiple data streams. It can use GPS and beacons to determine work location and track time.
  • Travel Assistant generates travel requests and manages approvals based on travel patterns and preferences and can auto-populate expense claims using receipt recognition technology.
  • Approval Assistant notifies and reminds managers to approve tasks and flags important tasks where deadlines are looming.

An added benefit: The more you use Wanda, the smarter she gets. That’s the “self-learning” part. The travel assistant provides the perfect example. If you frequently travel to a particular location – corporate headquarters perhaps – Wanda will recognize this as a frequent destination and assist throughout the entire process, from requesting approval for travel to submitting expenses for reimbursement. She will know if you typically park your car at the airport, fly on Delta, rent a car or book a taxi or Uber. So she can auto-populate those cost elements of the travel request based on past trips. And when you scan your receipts at the end of the trip, she can distinguish between the airport parking garage and the kiosk where you buy a sandwich close by the office.

Unit4 Getting Ahead of the Curve

While not the only solution provider on the market to be working on chat bots and virtual assistants, Mint Jutras would say it is ahead of the curve in terms of the depth and breadth of the offering. Adoption, and even familiarity with this type of technology is still nascent.

Our 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study sought to determine the level of familiarity with several different digital technologies, including virtual personal assistants for employees. We found almost half (47%) of our respondents either not familiar or only somewhat familiar with this type of technology and only 12% with it deployed or in the process of deploying. However, we find those with World Class implementations are far more familiar and more than three times as likely to be deploying (Figure 1). While having a World Class implementation of ERP doesn’t automatically make you a World Class company, we do see these top performers exceeding their peers when we look at efficiency (cost reduction) and current performance in metrics like complete and on-time delivery to customers.

Figure 1: What level of familiarity do you have with virtual personal assistants for employees?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

By using technology such this from Microsoft as building blocks, Unit4 can now take people productivity to completely new levels. Self-driving ERP automates manual tasks, freeing up people to do what automation can’t. Let Wanda do the repeatable, repetitive tasks while you handle the exceptions. Let Wanda sense potential problems or bottleneck while you concentrate on discovering potential opportunities. Let Wanda make intelligent and sensible recommendations while you make informed, data-driven decisions. Make room for Wanda, your new co-pilot, right beside you in the driver’s seat.

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Exact’s New UX for Macola 10.5: More Than Just a Pretty Face

Adding Functionality and Value Too

At its annual user conference Macola Evolve 2017 in New Orleans (April 20, 2017), Exact unveiled Macola 10.5. Much of the new release of its enterprise resource planning (ERP) software is focused on enhancing the usability of the software with new tablet-led user interfaces, “aligning with how and where manufacturing and wholesale distribution customers use the software on a day-to-day basis.” While new user interfaces are often just about screen navigation and visual appeal, the new usability features of Macola 10.5 add more than just a pretty new face. They make existing functionality more visible and accessible, while also adding new functionality. Will Macola users fall into the typical trap of resisting change or will they welcome it with open arms? It’s all about perceived value.

Overcoming Resistance to Change

It is not uncommon today for ERP solution providers to be transforming the user experience. In fact, it is almost a necessity. After all, the millennial generation grew up with technology in the palms of their hands. The concept of a user manual is as foreign to them as vinyl records and turntables. But with the introduction of so many consumer applications on mobile devices, even Baby Boomers have succumbed to the siren call of mobile technology and have become much more demanding of user interfaces. It’s called “the consumerization of IT” and it is a very real phenomenon. We demand truly intuitive screens and touch technology.

But this isn’t the first time user interfaces have undergone a transformation. Those of us in the older generation remember the “green screens” of yesteryear. And we also remember how difficult it was to get the users to abandon those green screens in favor of a graphical user interface (GUI). When GUIs were first introduced in a major release, if you asked a typical user, “What was the hardest part of the upgrade to the new release?” the answer was almost universally, “The new user interface.” It was a real struggle to get the users to abandon the devil they knew. But if you asked the follow on question, “What was the best value delivered with the upgrade?” the answer was almost universally, “The new user interface.” Even though transitions were tough, they proved worth the effort.

So what have we learned from this prior transition? The key to overcoming resistance is to add value. Even if you hate the existing user interface, once you get used to it, it is indeed the devil you know. But if the new user interface is just different, adds nothing new, doesn’t solve a problem, then you can’t blame the user for resisting.

Personal experience at the Macola Evolve event provides us with an analogy. The event was held at the Sheraton Hotel on Canal Street in New Orleans, right on the border of the French Quarter. A popular location for events of this size, I had been to several located in this 41-story hotel, but they were all held 15+ years ago. Since then, the Sheraton had installed new “smart” elevators. These smart elevators had a new “user interface.” Instead of just pressing the up or down arrow, you entered the floor you wanted to go to as you were calling the elevator. This eliminated the need for any buttons inside the elevator itself. I loved them.

Interestingly one of the main stage presenters at the event, a Chief Information Officer (CIO) at a manufacturer of consumer products, bemoaned this new elevator user interface. He hated it. He wanted the old buttons back inside the car.

Why did this CIO resist them, while I embraced them? Well, for one thing, it provided him with a tongue-in-cheek example of how IT projects would go so much more smoothly if it weren’t for the users. Just kidding, but put something new in front of them, and they are likely to baulk. I would partially agree, but only if what you put in front of them doesn’t immediately solve a problem or add real value. I loved the new elevators because they solved a problem I had recently experienced.

The previous week I was at an event with sessions on three different floors of a hotel. Not only did the hotel not have enough elevators, they didn’t provide any access to stairs (so no work-around). This caused a severe bottleneck. But as one elevator was filled and more people wanted to get on, they couldn’t just press the up or down button because that would cause the doors of the filled car to reopen. They had to wait until it was away to call the next one. And there was no way to organize the group by destination so every elevator stopped at every floor.

With the smart elevator, each passenger could enter his or her destination in advance. This not only allowed the elevator(s) to optimize the routes, often making them express to a particular floor, but never recalled a full elevator car. And a new one was coming before the full one was away.

The CIO’s perception: they took away my buttons. My perception: they made the elevators smart and my ride faster. There are two lessons here. The first to the CIO: Never introduce a new upgrade without being able to convey the value. The second to the solution provider: It’s not enough to just put a pretty face on the software. Make it do more.

Is Macola 10.5 Adding Value?

Macola 10.5 does have a pretty new face. The look and feel is a radical departure from prior releases. The goals from a visual perspective were to strive for clarity, avoiding clutter. And yet users tend to want and need lots of data for insights and decision-making. Power users in particular are likely to ask for more and more data at their fingertips. But the more you add to the screen, the longer it takes a user to react and respond.

Exact has reconciled these two apparently contradictory needs with something called “progressive disclosure.” Simply put, make that added data available, but hide it until you press the little arrow that signals you want more. Progressive disclosure adds more functionality to any particular screen without necessarily adding clutter.

This is particularly important as users move from desktops and laptops to tablets and even smart phones. It’s called “responsive design.” Exact starts with a tablet-first design. A tablet is more constrained in size. Size and fonts, use of color and contrast become more important for visual clarity, along with the ability to collapse or expand sections to take better advantage of the real estate on the screen. A tablet has touch access, but no mouse. Think about how you often use a mouse today to hover over a field to get more information. No mouse, no hover. That hover is a sort of search and help mechanism.

Therefore the way you search needs to change. Think about texting or typing on your smart phone. Once you start typing the word, it gives you suggestions for finishing it. Do you ever miss that when you are typing a document or accessing ERP from your desktop or laptop? Of course you do. You will start to miss it even more when you get used to Macola 10.5 giving you similar suggestions. Start typing a customer name in order entry and Macola 10.5 will show you a list of who you might be looking for, just like your email does when you start typing an email address with which you have communicated previously.

Macola 10.5 is not only striving for clarity, but combining the best features of your different worlds – smart phone, tablet, laptop, email, ERP, etc. – whether you are at your desk or on the move. The goal is to preserve the power of the solution while reducing the complexity of how you interact with the solution and the data.

What Users Want

These added bits of functionality bring value just like the smart elevator brings speed and efficiency. But if usability is the ultimate goal, do these efforts align with what users want? The 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study asked survey participants to select the top three most important elements of ease of use (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Most Important Elements of Ease of Use (top 3 selected)

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

We find speed and efficiency at the very top of the list. Macola 10.5’s progressive disclosure, device independence, type-ahead search that requires less data to be entered, infinite scrolling and sort-able table columns all speak to speed and efficiency.

Of course with intuitive navigation, second on the list, the proof is in putting your hands on it. If you are an Exact customer or prospect, ask for a demo. But don’t be content to watch one of the Macola experts demonstrate the new user interface. Of course it seems intuitive when you are watching someone who’s done it about a million times. You will only know if it is intuitive if you try to use it with little or no instruction. We think the software will speak for itself, but you need to be the judge.

Third on our list is “Easy access from anywhere, any time.” Loosely translated, this means cloud. Cloud brings tremendous value, but cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) brings more. What’s the difference?

  • Cloud refers to access to computing, software and storage of data over a network (generally the Internet.) You may have purchased a license for the software and installed it on your own computers or those owned and managed by another company, but your access is through the Internet and therefore through the “cloud,” whether private or public.
  • SaaS is exactly what is implied by the acronym. Software is delivered only as a service. It is not delivered on a CD or other media to be loaded on your own (or another’s) computer. It is generally paid for on a subscription basis and does not reside on your computers at all.

All SaaS is cloud computing, but not all cloud computing is SaaS. Traditional on-premise or hosted solutions might (or might not) be accessed via the cloud, although this is more likely to be a private cloud.

We could write volumes on the benefits of cloud and/or SaaS. For many, cost savings are the prime advantage. Beyond cost considerations, the other types of possible benefits include:

  • More innovation through more frequent updates
  • Better support of distributed environments and remote workforces
  • Risk mitigation

Macola has been available to run in the cloud for a long time. Everything demonstrated at Macola Evolve 2017 was running in Microsoft Azure.

And finally, rounding out the top four most important elements of ease of use is “Does what I need it to do easily and naturally.” This was a primary goal of Macola 10.5. “In any given day, our customers may be on the shop or warehouse floor managing operations, out of the office visiting customers or suppliers, or sourcing new materials. The latest update to our ERP and business software is focused on empowering users to more efficiently and seamlessly access the information they need to do their jobs, wherever they are at the time,” said Derek Ochs, director of development, Exact, Macola division. “With Macola 10.5, we are matching our software to the way our customers do their jobs. In the end, if Macola is truly doing its own job, the user hardly knows the software is there.”

Beyond Macola 10.5

Of course Exact will continue to develop its road map for Macola. But in addition it is also experimenting with a new “hackathon” approach. Periodically it takes teams of developers across all divisions of Exact and allows them to work on any new idea they might come up with, encouraging them to be creative and courageous. This can result in some pretty cool stuff that may or may not ever get into the product.

One that we think is very likely to make it in is a new login screen that uses facial recognition. Think about collecting transactions on a shop floor. Seldom does every worker have his or her own device for data entry to collect hours worked and quantity completed. At the lunch break or the end of a shift, are they queued up to record a half or full day of work? If so, wouldn’t it be great if they could just walk up to a screen and the system would automatically recognized them, log them in and maybe even bring up the production order in process? How much time and aggravation would that save?

Or how about a Macola Chat Bot (based on Microsoft’s bot engine) to do basic things in Macola just by chatting with it using Skype? Perhaps this might be an alternative user interface for occasional users so they don’t have to understand the system in order to get data and answers from it. Or how about a preferences engine that might suggest other items that are likely to be purchased as you add a line item in order entry?

These are just a few examples of sprint-like projects that are being conceived and developed through these hackathons. None of these are out of the realm of possibility with technology available today. Perhaps the biggest stumbling block to moving forward with these potential innovations is a lack of familiarity, and therefore appreciation for what technology can do today.

In our 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study we selected 14 different kinds of technology and asked respondents to assess their level of familiarity with each in terms of how they relate (or not) to their business. All respondents were asked about all 14, even though we realize some are more relevant to some industries than to others. Those shaded in the lighter green are primarily applicable to those making and/or moving a physical product, while those in the darker green are likely to be applied more universally (Table 1).

Table 1: How familiar are you with these technologies as they relate (or not) to your business?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Adoption rates are still quite low and in many instances, those that have little or no familiarity outnumber those that understand it well. So in many cases Exact can’t rely on its customers to ask for these features. But even if customers aren’t pushing in this direction, perhaps Exact can pull them along, potentially transforming businesses as it does.

 Summary

Macola 10.5 brings some added new features and functions along with its pretty new face. These include:

  • A newly re-architected tablet-led user interface that uses size and fonts, color and contrast or added visual clarity, along with the ability to collapse or expand sections to take better advantage of the real estate on the screen
  • Progressive disclosure, keeping added detail (clutter) hidden until needed
  • Responsive design of software, which behaves differently depending on the device in use
  • Special search capabilities that ask the question as you type, “Did you mean…?”
  • Intuitive screens (but don’t take our word for it, see for yourself)
  • Available in the cloud

These are exciting times for the developers at Exact. If you are a customer, share in their excitement. If you are considering replacing your current ERP solution, Macola is definitely worth a look. Dive in to Macola 10.5 to see what you are missing.

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ANAPLAN: The New Age of Connected Planning

A Connected, Living, Actionable Plan for Continuous Improvement

In a recent report, Mint Jutras posed the question Is Planning & Performance Management A Marriage Made In Heaven? We concluded the key to marital bliss: more data, more tools, more often. Anaplan is one company that is committed to this approach. Back in December 2015 we applauded its solution as A Complete, Connected and Living Plan. But Anaplan hasn’t been resting on its laurels since then. The theme of its most recent customer event (Anaplan Hub 2017): A New Age of Connected Planning. Yes, Anaplanners are able to connect planning and performance management, but “the connected plan” means much more. Connected planning connects data, people and plans. And we’re not just talking about financial plans. We’re talking about being connected across the enterprise.

“Connected Planning”

Ideally, the enterprise should have a single, cohesive plan to maximize growth and profits. This should be both a financial plan and an operational plan. Of course there are different components of that plan, but you need all the different functions within an organization pulling in the same direction. This requires each function to narrow its focus and figure out exactly what it needs to do, without losing sight of the end goal. That is often easier said than done because traditionally this requires specialized tools and applications for each function, resulting in separate sales, finance, workforce and supply chain plans. How do you bring them altogether? Too often the answer is, you don’t.

After all, what software company provides financial planning, budgeting and forecasting, sales and operations planning (S&OP), workforce planning, supply chain planning (SCP) and inventory optimization (and possibly more) all in a single solution? While some of the giants in the industry can satisfy all these needs, they tend to do so with discrete applications. Very often those different solutions are the result of acquisition, which means they weren’t developed from a single platform and the integration is far from seamless, if it exists at all. Instead of a single, coordinated plan, you risk having disconnected or even competing plans pulling you in different directions, even though you work with a single vendor.

This is why Anaplan takes a completely different approach. Instead of the traditional point solution approach for each of these planning functions Anaplan offers a single planning platform that is cloud based. The team at Anaplan likes to say, “one platform, unlimited possibilities.” The goal is to connect the organization, end to end.

What’s New in this New Age?

Given the title of our December 2015 report, it is clear the concept of a connected plan is not entirely new at Anaplan. Yet not only has that connectivity evolved, it really is a new age at Anaplan.

New Leadership, New Focus

First of all, Anaplan has a new leader. New president and CEO Frank Calderoni came on board in January of this year. It was a tribute to the rest of the executive leadership that the company hadn’t really missed a beat since former CEO Fred Laluyaux had stepped down in April 2016.

But Mr. Calderoni came with some new ideas. He largely kept the same executive team that worked well without the guidance of a CEO, reflecting his trust in them. He also brought a three-pronged corporate strategy, focusing on:

  1. Customer first: Beyond the cliché, Mr. Calderoni hopes to bring this mantra into the very culture of Anaplan.
  2. More innovation: Expect the investment in improving the technology to grow, but Anaplan will carefully choose where to develop innovation and where to partner. For example, new workflow capabilities will be developed internally because they impact the customer interaction so directly. But Anaplan chose not to re-invent automation of data integration, choosing instead to partner with Informatica. And new visualization capabilities are courtesy of Tableau for advanced analytics.
  3. Focus on community: An engaged and connected community is important to any software company, but more so for Anaplan. It delivers “use cases” or “apps” on top of its planning platform. But as noted in a previous Mint Jutras report,these are not your traditional commercial apps. And Anaplan isn’t the only one creating them. Both partners and customers (i.e. the community) contribute to the growing pool of them.

New Context for “Connected”

Anaplan started out by offering a planning engine built on its patented HyperblockTM technology. This calculation engine supported (and still supports) a level of granular detail that lets you connect all the dots naturally. So back in December 2015, we used the term “connected” in the context of connecting the dots. By changing one (connected) dot, Anaplan automatically propagated that change to any other part of the plan connected to that data. And because visibility and transparency are built in, you can easily adjust the plan as you monitor performance, making it a living plan.

Anaplan is still able to connect all the dots, but today it connects much more.

More Data

First of all it connects to more data. As we noted in previous reports, a planning engine is useless without data and this data might come from any number of sources, including enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), human capital management (HCM), additional financial applications or any other source of structured data. Back in 2015, most of the use cases for Anaplan centered on finance, workforce management and sales, relying primarily on internal data. Supply chain planning had only recently become a focus (late 2014).

In 2016, supply chain planning gained significant momentum for Anaplan. A year ago there were just 10 supply chain apps available. Today there are over 30. Supply chain planning can’t rely exclusively on internal data and communication. It wouldn’t be a supply “chain” if it didn’t involve other enterprises, including suppliers on the back end and customers on the front end. And a supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link, making connections a key criterion for success.

One customer, a manufacturer and distributor of high-end fashion accessories, credits Anaplan’s planning engine for its ability to significantly strengthen its forecast accuracy. Using the tool for demand driven planning has allowed the company to transition from pushing supply (with the hope of it being consumed) to pulling from an accurate forecast of demand. Given the volatility of fashion trends, nowhere in the organization is a living plan more important. And nowhere is it more important to connect directly to external forces driving the seasonality and downright fickleness of the world of high fashion. And nowhere is communication and collaboration beyond internal employees more important.

Prior to doing demand planning with Anaplan, the company had been overly dependent on the information management (IT) project management team to respond to needed changes in planning models. Not only was planning too slow and cumbersome, but the process itself was not flexible, and it took way too long to respond to change. But with Anaplan, the planning team became more self-sufficient and the planning process itself went from being performed monthly to weekly. The company currently plans a week of production and is heading toward daily planning. Given the volatility of high fashion, its products might only stay on the shelf for 3 months. It is critical to connect the plan to sales, social and economic drivers. With Anaplan, the frequency is higher and the data is fresh and planning is connected to reality.

 More Functions, More People, More Connections

While Anaplan’s planning engine is capable of connecting all the dots, oftentimes companies need to work hard to get all the different functions in the organization to play along. Yes, Anaplan is a platform for planning, but typically Anaplan’s customers don’t start out looking for a platform. They start out with one particular group looking to solve a particular problem. In solving that problem they may be collecting data from other parts of the organization and connecting those dots. But there are many more potential problems to solve and more connections to be made.

Anaplan customers tend to start with a single pressing problem, which is solved with a custom-tailored use case. On average, they then go on to solve at least two more, often related problems. Some wind up with 10 or even 30 use cases built on top of the platform. The more use cases, the more connected the enterprise and the more people are pulling together, all working from a cohesive plan.

So what holds customers back from taking full advantage of the platform in order to satisfy all their planning needs? Probably the most common obstacle is the custom nature of the solution. Remember, Anaplan started out as a planning and modeling engine, which makes it flexible and powerful. But if a department within the organization is looking for a quick fix, right out of the box, they might wind up looking elsewhere.

If you have a generic problem and are looking for a rigid, prescribed way of dealing with it, or perhaps you yourself really don’t know how to (theoretically) solve the problem, the solutions that work right out of the box are perhaps your best bet. But if you have a problem that is rather unique to your particular business or that calls for regular changes or course corrections, and you know how you would solve it if you just had the right tools, then a powerful platform that is easily tailored by the business user without a lot of assistance from IT might be the better solution. That’s Anaplan.

Back when Anaplan’s planning platform was first conceived you would have had to start solving the problem from scratch, perhaps with the assistance of a consultant. This is becoming less the case as more and more apps are added to the library of use casesAnaplan App Hub, increasing the likelihood that someone else has solved at least a similar problem previously. But even if they start with a pre-defined app, Anaplan customers will typically custom-tailor it to address their specific needs, either on their own or with the assistance of a growing number of partners.

You might fear that you don’t have the necessary technical skills to custom-tailor the solution. But don’t worry. If you can work a spreadsheet, you have most of the technical skills you need. You might need some assistance from the IT staff to setup the automated data integration from various sources of structured, and perhaps even unstructured data. But since you have freed them up from having to do the heavy lifting normally associated with a custom-tailored solution, they have much more time to work with you on the more strategic stuff.

Over time, most Anaplan customers see a clear path to moving on to solve the next problem and chances are the average number of use cases deployed will steadily rise.

Case in Point

Another Anaplan customer, achieved a 900% return on its investment (ROI) in two years.

A global leader in innovative comfort footwear for men, women and children is a vertically integrated enterprise with five factories around the world. The head of global supply turned to Anaplan to optimize supply planning.

Many of the offered products can be made in any of the factories, although some do some specialized production. Prior to deploying Anaplan, the company had to rely on a planner’s gut feel as to the best source of supply. But there was no financial consideration factored into these decisions even though the trade-offs between cost to make and cost to transport were significant. The head of global supply felt the decisions needed to be more fact based. She needed to be able to easily rebalance allocation. She needed to be able to easily and quickly consider various “what if” scenarios in order to not just make a sourcing decision, but to make the optimal sourcing decision.

It took one year to completely develop a customized use case for optimization. The team tested for six months and then ran in parallel with the old methods in order to prove the cost effectiveness.

They changed some products from being single sourced to dual sourced. They found that while the cost to make certain products in Europe was higher, the offsetting savings were huge. It was also a huge learning experience because some of what they discovered was counter-intuitive. But with the real facts in hand they were able to save about one million euros – a 900% ROI in two years. The long ramp-up was not so much dependent on the skills of the people doing the setup, but rather the nature and complexity of the problem, and the number data sources and volume of data required.

The next step is to move from detailed allocation to more strategic planning, a necessary step to convince the rest of the organization that this disruptive technology is not too good to be true.

Conclusion and Recommendations

In today’s fast-paced world, you need to be working from a well-formulated plan, around which all parts of the enterprise can rally. You also need to marry that plan to performance and make it a living, breathing plan – one that is well grounded in real data and able to respond to the forces of change that impact businesses every day. And the plan needs to bring all the different functions in the organization together. Unfortunately today too many plans are built on solutions that are anything but happily married. Even the different departments live entirely separate lives, either consciously or unconsciously avoiding each other or, even worse, they are in contentious relationships.

When it comes to planning and performance management, Anaplan is not the only kid on the block. But no other company does it quite like this kid. Based on its own in-memory Hyperblock technology, Anaplan delivers a platform that is flexible enough to adapt to your specific needs and solve your specific problems. But it is easy enough for the nontechnical user to work with, especially with a growing number of pre-built use cases.

If your different financial and operational plans are not well coordinated across the enterprise, perhaps it is time to connect them. If your planning and performance management does not enjoy marital bliss, perhaps it is time to connect them. If your current plans are not based on real data, perhaps it is time to connect them. Anaplan’s connected planning is designed for all these connections, but perhaps most importantly, it may just be the path to connect you with reality and guide you into the future.

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Are Digital Technologies for Everyone?

Understanding Just How Well They are Understood and Valued

Industry pundits have been hyping “digital transformation” and “digital technologies” for several years now. This hype tends to make ample reference to the consumer technologies that are indeed making an impact on our personal lives: connected homes, self-driving cars, wearable fitness devices and every kind of “app” you can think of on your smart phone or tablet. That’s easy. The hard part is connecting this transformation to the workplace and the enterprise in a way that seems to bring real value. The pundits make the assumption that these technologies are well-understood and perceived as valuable. But are they?

I don’t make any such assumptions and the results from questions on digital preparedness in my annual enterprise solution study last year confirmed many decision makers are fooling themselves with a false sense of security. While 88% agreed that embracing digital technologies was necessary for survival, the majority still rely at least in part on spreadsheets for something as common as the system of record of business transactions. That contradiction led me to investigate just how well understood various technologies are, and whether value is perceived as real.

How Well Do You Understand?

We are still actively collecting data from this year’s study, but at this point in time we’ve captured over 500 responses – enough to make some early observations. Participants represented a wide range of industries and companies of all sizes, from small to very large.

We selected 14 different kinds of technology and asked respondents to assess their level of familiarity with each in terms of how they relate (or not) to their business. All respondents were asked about all 14, even though we realize some are more relevant to some industries than to others. Those shaded in the lighter green are primarily applicable to those making and/or moving a physical product, while those in the darker green are likely to be applied more universally.

Table 1: How familiar are you with these technologies as they relate (or not) to your business?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

There is a lot of data and insight buried in this table and there are countless different ways we can cut it and present it. One way of analyzing the data is to divide participants into two groups: those that have no familiarity or are only somewhat familiar with a technology, and those that understand it well. We presume those that have deployed or are deploying it fall into the latter category. Figure 1 depicts this dichotomy graphically.

Figure 1: Either you “get it” or you don’t

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

We seem to be all over the map here, with those that utilize increasingly large volumes of data to provide intelligence most well understood. And yet we don’t see a big uptake in terms of deployment (Figure 2). Only 10% to 20% have even begun deploying the technologies that are most well understood and many just don’t see the applicability to their business.

Figure 2: Deployment Lags Understanding

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Is this due to a lack of education or is it because they really don’t apply? I think it is a little of both. While I still want to do a deeper dive by industry, two preliminary data cuts told me a whole lot. First of all, those that fall into my category of “World Class” have a far greater knowledge and appreciation for these technologies. Just look at the difference in adoption rate (Figure 3) between World Class and All Others.

Figure 3: World Class Deploy More

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Note that I define World Class (the top 15%) through the results achieved since implementing the software that runs the business and progress against company goals. This is not a “world class company” as much as world class use of technology, although better use of technology very often correlates with better company performance in terms of growth and profits. So we’re not surprised to see a higher level of understanding and more adoption in companies that have achieved World Class status.

However, we also recognize that while deployment is about the company, understanding and perception of value is more about the individual. And this is where the second data cut was quite revealing. I looked at levels of understanding based on the age of the survey participants, the vast majority of which fell into the categories of Baby Boomers (23%), Gen Xers (53%) and Millennials (23%).

Figure 4: Millennials Understand Better

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

It is quite clear that the level of understanding of these technologies is inversely proportional to age. This doesn’t mean Millennials are smarter. They were simply born in an age where we rely on technology to make life easier, while Baby Boomers grew up doing things the hard way. In terms of seeing the value, Baby Boomers are definitely harder to convince.

As a Baby Boomer, I am skeptical of technology making us stupid and lazy. I see many examples of this in consumer technology. Smart refrigerators are the perfect example. A simple, online search came up with this:

The Samsung Family Hub fridge has a giant touchscreen built into one of its doors, complete with an app you can use to order groceries online. A line of cameras on the inside will send a picture to your phone when you’re out shopping. An app on the fridge for Samsung’s SmartThings smart home service will let you control your lights, your thermostat, and other connected products right from your refrigerator door.”

My reaction: Really? You need this to manage the inventory of your refrigerator? Are you constantly running out of milk? You can’t flip a light switch or remember to turn down the heat when you leave or go to bed? You want your refrigerator to do that? You really think you’ll save a measurable amount of energy by not having to open the door?

The reaction of my 28-year-old nephew? While he didn’t spring for the Samsung $5,000 model, he did buy a smart refrigerator.

The risk I face is overlooking something that will make a significant impact. The risk my nephew faces is spending too much for too little real value… while perhaps becoming stupid and lazy. But there is hope for both of us. I did invest in a video doorbell this past year, resulting in improved security. Not to mention the fact I actually know when someone is at the door even though my hearing isn’t what it used to be. And my nephew never runs out of milk now and still saved enough money to renovate his kitchen, increasing the resale value of his home.

The lesson for businesses to learn: educate yourself on the real value, but scrutinize the return on investment. Over the next few weeks and months, look for me to dive deeper into these different technologies for help in both areas.

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What Acumatica Customers Want – And Get

Openness, Collaboration, Innovation, Acceleration

Talk to any Acumatica customer and very quickly you hear the word “open.” That’s most often cited as a primary reason the company chose Acumatica’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) over other solutions. Why? Because these customers value fit and functionality and completeness of a solution, but they also need flexibility, and often “best of breed” and/or customized functionality to help them differentiate themselves from their competition. But customizing the solution can’t build barriers to growth and change. And for these small to midsize enterprises (SMEs), a flexible, differentiated solution can’t add unwanted complexity and it can’t break the bank.

While many ERP providers today try to be “one stop shops,” the downside of this is added complexity and cost. Acumatica instead chooses to provide an open platform and take a collaborative approach to accelerate innovation, collaborating with customers to plot a product roadmap and with partners to fill gaps and provide specialized functionality. While Acumatica customers don’t necessarily expect ERP to satisfy all their needs, they also don’t want to wind up with a hodge podge of disparate, disconnected solutions. In fact, that is what many are replacing. They turn to Acumatica to facilitate easy integration and connectivity.

This “open” approach provides the added benefit of agility. Face it: We live in disruptive times and disruption can have a cascading impact on business application requirements, making the ability to easily innovate, evolve and change – equally, if not more important than current functionality.

Click here to read the full report

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Does Oracle’s Acquisition Mean More, More, More for NetSuite?

Something New or More of the Same? Yes

On December 7, 2016 Oracle completed its acquisition of NetSuite. While Oracle acquisitions are nothing new – the company has executed dozens and dozens of them over the years – this one is indeed a unique mix of new and “more of the same.” NetSuite is not the first Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) player to be acquired by Oracle, but there are some “firsts:”

  • The first ERP acquired that was born in the cloud, bringing along that all-important cloud revenue (not to mention SaaS DNA)
  • The first time Oracle has openly and loudly declared the “products will go on forever”
  • The first time the acquired company will be run as a separate global business unit, preserving the brand identity and keeping the leadership largely in tact

Oracle and NetSuite have always had close ties. Larry Ellison invested early in the company and owned close to 40% of the stock prior to the acquisition. Zach Nelson, former CEO of NetSuite, has a very close relationship with Mr. Ellison. And the foundation on which NetSuite’s products are built takes advantage of the “Oracle stack.” That said, they were still rivals. In fact, prior to closing, both companies claimed they were the #1 Cloud ERP company. By combining the two, Oracle is now declaring victory in that battle.

But there are also a couple of “softer” firsts. Perhaps because of the Ellison-Nelson relationship, or perhaps because of NetSuite’s proven success in the market (or both), never before have we seen such respect from Oracle for the accomplishments of the target company or such a welcoming embrace. Mark Hurd, in addressing a group of influencers (including press, industry and financial analysts) lauded NetSuite for “serving a community we have not served well.” That statement alone is one for the record books: Oracle (the company which previously claimed to be the #1 Cloud ERP company) admitting it had not served a market well.

All combined, this bodes well for the NetSuite community.

What “More” Did NetSuite Gain?

When the announcement of Oracle’s intent to acquire NetSuite first hit the wire in July, it was quite clear what Oracle was looking for: more share of the cloud market. “Cloud” is where it’s at today. Mint Jutras has been following perceptions and preferences for SaaS versus on-premise software for years now. Between 2011 and 2013, the demand for traditional on-premise deployments went over a cliff. Since then, preference for SaaS (versus hosting) has continued to climb.

Figure 1 shows the progression of preference over the past several years. The question posed to survey respondents was this: If you were to select a solution today, which deployment options would you consider? Respondents are allowed to select all that apply.

Figure 1: Which Deployment Options Would You Consider?

Source: Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Studies

*Option added in 2015

Combine these preferences with Mr. Ellison’s publicly stated goal of being the first company to reach $10 billion in cloud revenue and you have a pretty good idea of what Oracle was looking to achieve.

The benefit to NetSuite was perhaps not quite as clear. The company was already successful on its own. While it never seemed to record a profit under GAAP reporting, it did show positive cash flow and was profitable by non-GAAP measures. This was largely due to the way GAAP treats stock-based compensation and the fact that just about every employee owned a little piece of NetSuite. So NetSuite was able to invest in the development of its products and was already making steps to expand globally.

But that’s the key to unlocking the motivation… from the NetSuite point of view they couldn’t do either fast enough. As a public company, the leadership was often forced to focus on metrics other than those most conducive to growth. As a business unit of Oracle, the team can focus on what matters most to them, not Wall Street. And it is clear, what matters most is bringing more products to more markets faster.

Being part of the Oracle family means NetSuite gains access to Oracle resources in the form of:

  • Supporting products (think platform and infrastructure). This includes Oracle’s Platform as a Service (PaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Data as a Service (DaaS).
  • More applications to sell (think complementary extensions like supply chain management, human capital management, enterprise performance management and configure-price-quote). NetSuite already had some of these and partnered for others, but this significantly adds product to the bags the sales representatives carry.
  • More people to develop NetSuite products. Oracle has pledged increased funding. It is not clear whether these will be new hires or people who already work for Oracle today on other products. It is likely to be some combination of both.
  • Global presence (think people and business infrastructure around the world) – instantly. NetSuite had started to expand, but only offered support in English and Japanese. Oracle not only has the additional language skills in support, but many more support locations. It also has far more data centers around the world to address the issues (both real and perceived) of where data must be stored when operating in the cloud. This of course, also puts additional feet on the street globally, not only to support, but also to sell.

Conclusion

We go back to the initial question posed: Does the Oracle acquisition of NetSuite represent something new or is it more of the same? The answer is yes. While Oracle is an old hand at acquisitions (so more of the same), this one does have some “firsts,” so there is indeed something new. Oracle has declared the NetSuite products will “live forever,” so this is an instance of “more of the same.” Yet while NetSuite has poured as many resources as it could afford into developing the products, Oracle has deeper pockets and can also bring its own resources to bear in terms of products, people and global reach. So NetSuite will enjoy “more of the same” …but “more” is a relative term. In this case, we believe “more” means “lots more.”

While there may have been some initial trepidation, particularly from NetSuite customers who specifically chose not to purchase a solution from Oracle, it would appear that Oracle is intent on allaying those fears. By operating the acquired company as a global business unit, it preserves the perceived value of NetSuite as a pioneering SaaS vendor. By committing to the continued development of the products while adding depth and weight to its offerings, it would appear product development will be accelerated. And NetSuite gains entrance to global markets instantly. From the outside looking in, Mint Jutras is actually surprised (and pleased) to say that it seems like a win-win.

PS: For those of you not familiar with NetSuite, here is a quick primer:

NetSuite is a leading provider of cloud-based business management software, delivered exclusively as software as a service (SaaS).

Some quick facts about NetSuite at the time of the acquisition:

  • Founded in 1998
  • Publicly traded on NYSE: “N”
  • 5,350 employees
  • $741.1 million in annual revenues for FY 2015, ending 12/31/2015
  • Grown by 30%+ in each of the last 16 consecutive quarters, as of June 30, 2016
  • Used by 30,000+ organizations (includes subsidiaries and affiliates) in more than 100 countries
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Deltek iAccess: More Than Just a Pretty Face

Deltek’s Secret Sauce to Innovation

Deltek is laser-focused on meeting the needs of project-driven businesses. Unlike a myriad of solution providers that simply provide software used to manage the projects themselves, Deltek takes a giant leap beyond, also providing software that runs the projects-based business. This type of software is typically referred to as enterprise resource planning (ERP). But in Deltek’s case we’re not only talking about ERP, but also a special kind of ERP.

Over the years, through organic development and acquisition, Deltek has collected a dizzying array of products: specialized enterprise solutions for government contractors and a wide range of professional services organizations including architecture and engineering (A&E) firms, management consultants, advertising, PR and marketing agencies and more. The one thing all these segments have in common is this: They are all people-centric, providing services, largely delivered through projects.

Beyond this point of commonality, they can be very different. They don’t go after the same type of business; their customers are worlds apart; some are heavily regulated; others operate under few constraints. Some are small; others are large. Some manage projects that last days or weeks and others span multiple years. A general-purpose kind of solution just doesn’t work well here.

This leaves Deltek with a rather difficult challenge of providing continued innovation across a broad portfolio of products, but a challenge the company has embraced with vigor. What is the secret sauce to keeping a potentially diverse set of customers able to keep up with the demanding requirements of our digital economy? Deltek iAccess.

What is Deltek iAccess?

Deltek describes iAccess as an “Easy to use front office solution.” But unless you count each and every employee in a project-driven firm as an occupant of the front office, you completely underestimate what iAccess can do. Mint Jutras would suggest you think of it instead as a front door, an entry point into some of the most critical functions performed in a project-based business.

As a front end to Deltek’s ERP solutions, iAccess provides a new way to navigate and therefore it does provide a new user interface, which will eventually work its way throughout the various applications. iAccess will supplant previous user interface efforts such as the Maconomy Portal and Vision Smart Client. But for the functions it serves today, it is more than just a user interface.

Three Workspaces Touch Much of the Organization

Deltek iAccess is more like an extension of your Deltek ERP. Today it provides three distinct workspaces that are specific to three different functions performed by employees and in doing so, covers much of what is accomplished in a project-based business:

  • Business Development Workspace provides a lot of the functionality typically associated with sales force automation, supporting those charged with developing business, including managing clients, contacts and opportunities
  • Project Management Workspace helps project managers monitor projects and identify problems before it’s too late
  • Employee Workspace makes it easier to keep timesheets and expense reports up to date from anywhere

While Deltek iAccess is browser-based, all three workspaces are available and integrated with both cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) and on-premise deployments of ERP. And it also provides a uniform look and feel across multiple products. Of course each Deltek customer will likely be running only one of Deltek’s ERP solutions, but all the features and functions required are not necessarily embedded within ERP. In fact Deltek has been smart in delivering extended functionality, particularly in light of its diverse portfolio of products.

Consistent Look and Feel Across Extended Products

Deltek has been delivering more and more functionality via cloud-based add-ons, including Deltek CRM, Deltek Resource Planning (RP) and Deltek Talent Management. With iAccess providing that front end across all products, users experience a consistent look and feel throughout, making the integration appear seamless while also fostering engagement at all levels of the organization.

In days gone by a select few ever put their hands directly on ERP. Today we find over 50% of employees typically have direct access. The access any time, from anywhere advantage of the cloud has contributed to this rise in engagement, but also ease of use and intuitive navigation. The prevalence of consumer technology has changed expectations and the user experience delivered through iAccess is meeting and exceeding those expectations.

More Innovation, Easier to Consume

This kind of approach is also smart. It leverages development efforts across a range of products and should ultimately allow Deltek to deliver more innovation across its entire portfolio. While the needs of project-based businesses vary across different industries, they do share some common requirements.

The fact that these new modules/components are cloud-based is also significant. All three of its major product lines (Costpoint, Vision and Maconomy) have all made the transition into the cloud and are offered as multi-tenant SaaS solutions. Note the applications are multi-tenant but each customer has its own instance of the data base, and Deltek does have an Enterprise Cloud offering for those customers that require a single instance type environment. Multi-tenant SaaS solutions have the most potential for delivering more innovation, faster.

The fact that these new modules are delivered as add-on components is equally important. It addresses two key issues. First, as noted earlier, it allows Deltek to leverage development efforts across a range of products and should ultimately allow Deltek to deliver more innovation across its entire portfolio. Secondly, it makes it much easier for its customers to consume innovation.

Adding new functionality to ERP in a way that makes it easy to consume has long been a challenge. The very definition of ERP (at least the definition according to Mint Jutras) contributes to this challenge. Mint Jutras defines ERP as an integrated suite of modules that forms the operational and transactional system of record of a business.

A core ERP solution has historically been a monolithic structure. Not only do all modules of an ERP solution share a common database, but also all are developed using the same tools and technology (platform) and traditionally they all move forward in lock step. This eliminates data redundancy and any need for separate integration efforts. And a common platform for development is beneficial to both the customer and the vendor.

When new features and functions are added to ERP, this tight integration implies that all modules, all functions, and therefore all departments within an organization must move forward together. This can slow down the upgrade cycle. But even more troublesome: It takes massive efforts of coordination for all departments within a customer’s organization to take those next steps all together. And all might not have the same level of motivation.

So what’s the alternative to this tight integration? The alternative is often referred to these days as “loosely coupled,” but that terminology frequently conjures the “best of breed” approach of yesterday, where you had independent point solutions that needed to be interfaced or integrated back into ERP. We’re not advocating taking a step backwards. Perhaps a better way of describing the newer alternative would be “component-based” or “service-based.” Deltek’s add-on solutions (CRM, RP, Talent Management) are good examples.

When it comes time to offer up new features and functions, instead of inserting lines of code directly into ERP, you might instead call upon a standard “service.” When it comes time to upgrade or add new functionality, simply swap out the old “service” for the new. You might also view these services as external components. While this is an oversimplification, it conceptually describes how next generation ERP can effectively deliver new, targeted innovation without forcing all departments served by ERP to march forward together.

Innovation has never been more important than it is today. We live in disruptive times.

Handling Disruption

We asked survey participants in our 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study to estimate the level of risk they face in their industry (and therefore their business) being disrupted (Figure 1). We found 88% of companies believe they face some level of risk in their businesses and/or industries being disrupted by new innovative products, new ways of selling or pricing existing products or services, entirely new business models, or some combination of all of the above.

Figure 1: How much risk do you face in your industry being disrupted?

deltek-fig-1Source: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

While only 10% felt that risk was high and/or imminent, most do understand the risk is real. While about one in three (34%) feel the risk is low, we have to ask: How do you think the taxi industry might have answered this question on the eve of the launch of Uber? Do you think the hotel industry anticipated Airbnb? Did Block Buster foresee the devastating impact Netflix would have on its business?

And then of course there are still the more traditional disruptive factors like expansion and growth, organizational restructuring and regulatory changes, just to name a few. The Internet has leveled the playing field, allowing even small to midsize companies to establish a global presence and take advantage of unprecedented growth opportunities. But with these opportunities come change and the need for more (not less) innovation.

Wrap Up

Deltek iAccess is indeed more than just a pretty face. It is the face of innovation. It not only provides easier access and intuitive navigation, it adds functionality. When coupled with other cloud-based components, it will help Deltek handle universal needs while also delivering purpose-built functionality specific to different types of project-driven businesses. That is Deltek’s secret sauce.

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